Heather Viniar is both honored and proud to be an M.A. candidate in the Weiss-Livnat International Holocaust Studies program at the University of Haifa. Originally from New York, Heather earned her Bachelor’s degree in European History at Stony Brook University in May 2008, as a member of Phi Alpha Theta National History Honors Society. Upon graduation, she relocated to Florida and earned her Master’s degree in Education from Florida Atlantic University. Heather is a third generation Holocaust survivor, and has known she wants to work in the field of Holocaust Studies from an early age. One of the projects she found most rewarding was the interviewing and documentation of Holocaust survivor testimonies, so that the memories of survivors lives beyond their lifespan. She has studied the Holocaust at Lorenzo de Medici University in Florence, Italy, and she looks forward to combining her two passions, the Holocaust and teaching, in the future. Viniar discusses her experiences as a student in our MA program below:
Hi, my name is Heather Viniar. I’m 27 years old and was born and raised in New York, though most recently I am from South Florida. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in History from Stony Brook University, in New York, and my Master’s degree in Education from Florida Atlantic University.
What led you to pursue an MA degree in Holocaust Studies?
I am the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, which definitely instilled an immense passion for Holocaust Studies in me from a young age. I have always known that I wanted to be a Holocaust Educator, so I was incredibly grateful when I found the University of Haifa’s Weiss-Livnat MA in Holocaust Studies Program. What truly drew me to apply for this intensive Master’s Degree program is its multifaceted nature. This program is not simply based around coursework, though the coursework is substantial. The program incorporates volunteer work with Holocaust survivors, excellent internship opportunities, seminars, and meaningful lectures from guest speakers in the field of the Holocaust. The more I read about the program and the variety of opportunities I would be given, the more I knew I needed to be a part of it.
How did you decide on the University of Haifa?
My family is Israeli, and I have always wanted to spend an extended period of time in Israel. When I was finally ready to move forwards and take the steps towards a career in Holocaust Studies, I was certain that I did not want to go anywhere other than Israel. After researching the program at the University of Haifa, I was positive that Haifa was the place for me. After living here for 5 months, I can truly say that I was right.
What were your first impressions of life in Haifa like? How was it different than what you were expecting?
My first impression of Haifa was its immense beauty, and 5 months after arriving here, I still take time daily to appreciate the gorgeousness of this city. Studying the Holocaust 24/7 is not an easy task (even though I signed up for it), so it is important for me to be able to go outside and walk to Carmel Park and unwind. Coming from Florida, where I spend the majority of my time at the beach year round, I was concerned that I wouldn’t have that same calming outlet. What I’ve learned is that I had nothing to be worried about. Sure, I’m wearing a jacket for the first time since I left New York in 2008, but it is completely worth it. Haifa is amazing; I absolutely adore it here. Within a 30 minute time period, you can be up on top of Mount Carmel, down at Haifa’s beautiful beach, and downtown in the city. Haifa has the best of both worlds: it’s calm and definitely peaceful enough to focus on doing work, but you also have activity and nightlife.
Do you have a favorite course so far?
I have two favorite courses this semester, the first of which is called “Final Solution.” As you can tell from the name of the class, we specifically focus on the various stages of the Final Solution and analyze how the events played out. I have learned a priceless amount of information since the beginning of this course, and the professor, Dr. David Silberklang, is absolutely amazing. He generally starts each class off with a true story that leads into our topic of the day. The wealth of knowledge in his brain is incredible. One aspect of his seminar course that I like the most is that we read official Nazi documents and analyze the historical significance of them. This is crucial, as using primary sources is an essential skill for graduate and post-graduate students to have. My second favorite course this semester is called “Research Forum,” and I am very happy to say that this class is part of the program throughout the year. In this course, the director of the program brings in a variety of guest speakers from different Holocaust-related disciplines to speak to us. Listening to these lecturers is incredibly meaningful, as it displays the wide variety of job opportunities available to Holocaust scholars. Two of my favorite speakers so far have been Efraim Zuroff, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, and Yoram Haimi, an archaeologist who has been excavating the grounds of Sobibor in search of the gas chambers. Both of their lectures were very powerful and resonated very strongly in my mind.
What kind of volunteering work are you involved in?
Every week I volunteer with a Holocaust survivor, and I have noticed myself saying on numerous occasions that this is my absolute favorite time of the week. I grew up around Holocaust survivors both at home and in synagogue, and I always dedicated time to speaking with them and documenting their experiences. But volunteering with a survivor in this capacity is a completely different experience. This Holocaust survivor is a wonderful, strong, loving woman whom I look up to a lot. She has a very interesting history, and my fascination and respect grow each week that I spend time with her. I am so grateful that the MA program paired me with her. If you are interested in learning something new, google “The Girls of Room 28.” My survivor was one of them!
What kind of interning are you involved in?
I am very excited for the internship opportunities that this program has afforded me. I have not started interning yet, but I will be interning at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum, and at Yad Vashem. I am hoping for my Ghetto Fighters’ House internship to be in Yad LaYeled, the Children’s Holocaust Museum. One of my goals upon completion of this program is to work educating children about the Holocaust. I personally believe that educating children appropriately can change the world. Children are our future, thus they need to be taught about tolerance, acceptance, and social justice, and the Holocaust is the perfect subject for doing so.
What ideas do you have for a thesis topic?
I am planning to write my thesis on Hungarian Jewish Identity after the war. I am interested in tracing the emigration and religious life choices that Hungarian Jews made upon liberation, when they were faced with the difficult task of rebuilding their lives. I am looking forward to beginning my research, especially because I will be using survivor testimony as a big part of my primary source documentation. Every survivor has a different story, and being able to utilize his or her personal experiences in my research is extraordinary.
What do you hope to do after you finish your degree here?
My first goal upon graduation is to get a job at a Holocaust-related museum or archive. There are two departments in Holocaust museums that I am most passionate about working in: the children’s center, and the education center. I am dedicated to developing Holocaust curriculum, and also to educating teachers on different methodologies for teaching the Holocaust. The second goal is to involve myself with a variety of synagogues to do workshops and work with Hebrew school children, educating them about the Holocaust. My final goal is to eventually continue to a PhD program and be a Professor of Holocaust Studies. I am confident that through this program, I will have the knowledge, contacts, and tools to accomplish my goals.